Free Christmas events in London 2023: Things to do with kids

Looking for free Christmas activities in London with the family? A good Christmas doesn’t have to come with a hefty price tag, even in the fourth most expensive city in the world. Celebrate the season with these 100+ completely free London events, without any hidden entry or additional costs.

Enjoy twinkling London Christmas lights and beautifully decorated trees on the city’s streets and squares. Walk magical light trails, ride a horse and carriage along historic streets or dance the day away at a family disco. Attend a switch on party, go browsing at a London Christmas market or hear festive carols in special places. Make seasonal decorations or join in with fun children’s workshops. You can even meet Father Christmas in London and have a proper grotto experience – for nothing!

From London’s iconic free Christmas activities, to smaller local events, there’s so much in this ultimate guide that you’ll need to bookmark it for later. And keep an eye on my Instagram stories, where I share 100s of free and paid things to do in London a month.

If you’d like to say thanks, please tag me in your social media posts – I love seeing how people get on! You can also buy me a coffee (or mulled wine!)


How to attend sold-out Christmas events

If something is currently sold out, don’t despair. With free events, people often cancel their slots last minute, and/or the venue will accept walk-ins.

Keep checking the booking page for returns, and contact the organiser to see if you can try to get in on the day. If you do decide to try your luck, go early and be prepared to wait for a free slot. Have a back up plan nearby in case you can’t get in.

And if you find you can’t make something you’ve booked, please cancel your tickets with the organiser as soon as you can so another family can enjoy the event.


Contents

  1. LONDON’S FREE CHRISTMAS LIGHTS AND FESTIVE DECORATIONS
  2. CHRISTMAS LIGHTS SWITCH ON EVENTS IN LONDON
  3. FREE LIGHT TRAILS AND OTHER INSTALLATIONS IN LONDON
  4. FREE CHRISTMAS MARKETS IN LONDON
  5. FREE ENTRY TO WINTER WONDERLAND
  6. FREE ICE SKATING (AND ROLLER SKATING)
  7. FREE FAMILY DAYS AND FESTIVALS
  8. FREE CHRISTMAS CAROLS PERFORMANCES AND SING-A-LONGS
  9. MEET FATHER CHRISTMAS IN LONDON FOR FREE
  10. SEE SANTA CLAWS THE DINOSAUR
  11. MEET AND GREET WITH REAL REINDEER
  12. FREE HORSE AND CARRIAGE RIDES
  13. WALKING WITH THE SNOWMAN TRAIL
  14. HOMES OF CHRISTMAS PAST AT MUSEUM OF THE HOME
  15. FREE CHRISTMAS CRAFTS
  16. SEND POKÉ POST FROM A POKÉMON POP UP
  17. FREE FESTIVE UNDER 5S EVENTS
  18. FREE SEND EVENTS
  19. SPREAD SOME FREE FESTIVE CHEER

1. Admire London’s free Christmas Lights and installations

London’s Christmas lights are world famous – and completely free to see. Each year’s decorations are different, and vary from the sublime to the silly. They start switching on from the beginning of November – by the beginning of December all should be on, making it the best month to see them.

Our favourite way to see the Christmas Lights in London is by wandering the streets, which costs nothing. There’s much more than you can fit into an evening, so pick an area and have fun exploring!

Free Christmas lights and displays in London – West End

Credit: Oxford Street

Oxford Street, unveiled 2 November 2023, until early January 2024. Probably London’s most famous lights, A Sky Full of Stars returns. Thousands of dangling stars criss-cross the busy thoroughfare, powered by energy-efficient LED lights. I find them a little unimaginative, but they’re a good place to start a West End lights walking tour.

Combine with a visit to see Selfridges extravagant window displays. 2023’s theme is a theatrical Showtime! and features festive characters including Santa Claus as a stage director, a Christmas tree diva and a stand-up comedy snowman. Pop inside to meet Santa for free (more on that below) and browse their Christmas shop.

St Christophers Place, from 14 November 2023. Visit St Christmas Place, just off Oxford Street, for free festive performances from choirs and bands every Thursday from 17:30 and every Saturday from 15:30, with a special one-off performance for switch on night.

Covent Garden switched up its Christmas decorations this year – it’s bye bye to giant mistletoe and hello to 40 gigantic bells with bows, 12 giant baubles and 8 spinning mirror balls, in their iconic Market Building. Back by popular demand are the British-grown 60 ft Christmas tree, the forest of Christmas trees decorating the piazza and a 1884 hand painted sleigh for those all important family selfies. Until 7 January 2023.
Plus their hourly snow falls are back. 1-31 December 2023. On the hour every hour from 12:00-21:00. On New Year’s Eve, they’ll run hourly until 24:00.

Nearby Seven Dials has simplified its Christmas lights this year… I’m holding judgement until I’ve seen them in person.

Carnaby Street, unveiled 8 November 2023. In their new, inventive installation Carnaby Universe, vibrant neon spheres of colour and light waves create a moving vortex along the famous shopping street. At the corner of Carnaby and Broadwick Street you can transform yourself into a glowing angel with neon wings. Until 7 January 2024.

Regent Street, from 9 November 2023 until 2 January 2024. The iconic The Spirit of Christmas returns, with more than 50 shining angels floating above the elegant curved street. With double-decker red buses and black taxis underneath, it feels like the very essence of a London Christmas. This year, take a wander down Glasshouse Street, Swallow Street and glittering Quadrant Arcade to enjoy new installations. Visit St James’s Market for the chance to snap a picture with their only earth-bound Spirit.

Whilst in St James’s, take a look at Waterloo Place Christmas tree – it’s one of the largest in the country, yet often missed by visitors.

South Molton Street, from 16 November 2023. Just off Oxford Street, two giant blue starry arches span this tiny pedestrianised shopping street. It’s a great place for a photo.

Bond Street lights feature tiara-style gateways and bejwelled ‘necklaces’ strung across Old and New Bond Street, inspired by the Crown Jewels and the area’s high end jewellers.

Old Bond Street is hands-down my favourite street for Christmas displays in London as all of the expensive boutiques try to outdo each other. This year Cartier has a magical hot air balloon on its front and Tiffany & Co features a whimsical theme.

Fortnum & Mason, unveiled 31 October 2023. Where Christmas Comes Alive window display isn’t my favourite of theirs but it’s very easy to tag onto a visit to Old Bond Street. Messages light up in the night sky, and a sleigh pulled by hampers flies above the rooftops as Fortnum’s favourites products prepare for Christmas Day. From 1-25 December, the building becomes a giant advent calendar. Each day’s number appears in an upstairs window, and the whole facade glows a festive red.

Annabels, date to be confirmed. One of London’s most iconic private members’ clubs is renowned for its extravagant facades. In the past they’ve transformed into a giant gingerbread house, all blinged up with Swarovski crystals, a carousel and a giant sparkly Christmas tree. One not to miss on your West End light trail.

Mount Street, Mayfair, from 16 November 2023. The Connaught Hotel’s Christmas tree is designed by a different artist each year, whilst the street is illuminated with 63,000 sparkling lights in the shape of big blue bows. There’s also two festive floral installations – on Mount Street, and the corner of Duke Street and Weighhouse Street. If you time it right, you can see the tree whilst steam rises from the water feature, Silence by Tadao Ando and Blair Associates – Museum Girl was completely captivated by this!

Also in Mayfair, check out Claridge’s Christmas Tree, designed by Louis Vuitton. From 23 November 2023.

Trafalgar Square, 7 December 2023-6 January 2024. Every year since 1947, the city of Oslo has given the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree, as a token of Norwegian gratitude to the people of London for their assistance during the war years 1940–1945. Hopefully this year will see less ungrateful comparisons to a cucumber.

Belgravia, from 15 November 2023. See sparkling lights and larger-than-life festive displays from the area’s renowned florists in Belgravia’s Christmas Trail of Cheer. Although the lights seemed to have peaked with 2020’s rainbow arches, it’s a much quieter place to explore.

Marylebone Christmas lights bring festive cheer and photo moments to the charming neighbourhood. Highlights include an ever-changing Christmas door projection, a glittering giant bauble with a brand new colour scheme and geese inspired by Sherlock Holmes’ Christmas story, ‘The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle’. From 20 November 2023.


Free Christmas lights and displays – rest of London

Credit: The Shard

It’s not just the West End that takes its Christmas decorations seriously! Here’s other places to head to with kids to see impressive festive lights and decorations.

Tenemos returns to Kings Cross, an immersive, 11-metre high geometric winter sculpture by artist Liliane Lijn. Venture inside to immerse yourself in light as it gradually changes colour. Their 50-foot traditional Christmas tree in Coal Drops Yard is wrapped in 15,000 low-power lights, three times as many as last year, and adorned in neon ski accessories. From 9 November 2023. Drop in.

The Tinsel Trail links together lights and displays throughout the City of London. See an eight-metre colour changing Christmas tree and twinkling light tunnel in Leadenhall Market (from 16 November 2023). See your face projected onto a 20 foot tree in Be The Tree at Aviva Square (Wednesdays to Saturdays, 30 November-22 December 2023, 16:00-20:00). And step inside an inflatable Winter Wonderland snow globe at Fenchurch Street Station (5-8 December 2023). Drop in.

Chelsea Christmas brings two glowing majestic crowns and a giant ‘King’s Road’ lettering installation. Visit Duke of York Square to enjoy the neighbourhood’s sparkling A Partridge in A Pear Tree themed Christmas tree. See if you can find all twelve days of Christmas on their trail. There’s festive entertainment every weekend from 13:00-17:00, including roaming gospel choirs and Nutcracker soldiers on stilts, dance from the sparkling Optioscopes and a duo performing in a giant snow globe. 18 November-25 December 2023. Drop in.

Over 10km of sparkly lights decorate Merchant Square and their 20 foot Christmas tree changes colour – look out for the moving candy cane stripes! This year, you can expect more Christmas installations including tunnels of light, twinkly arches, festive deer and illuminated trees. From 23 November 2023. Drop in.

The Shard will light up its spire with another captivating light display, this year developed with traditional mosaic artistry provided by the London School of Mosaic. From 28 November 2023.

The Royal Exchange is yet to announce their plans, but in 2022 they had ‘snowfalls’ and choirs.


2. Attend one of London’s Christmas lights switch on ceremonies

Nothing says Christmas more than a large group countdown! Switch on ceremonies bring people together, have special activities and often free giveaways from local businesses too.

Credit: Greenwich Market

The Christmas 2023 Light Switch On Party at Old Spitalfields Market includes music, free face painting and Christmas craft activities by ArtPlay London, and the big light switch at 17:00. 15 November 2023, 13:00-17:00. Drop in.

Follow the Mayor of Greenwich, brass band Danger Goat and children from local schools carrying handmade colourful lanterns around Greenwich in the Lantern parade and light switch on. Starting at Old Royal Naval College, see the stunning Cutty Sark Christmas lights get switched on before heading to Greenwich Market for the big Christmas countdown and light switch-on! 15 November 2023, 16:00-18:00. Drop in.

Hear carol singing by London Gay Men’s Chorus, meet Father Christmas and his reindeer and say hello to The Snowman from Sadler’s Wells at Belgravia Christmas light switch-on party. I had a really fun, festive time with friends last year. Just bear in mind the roads aren’t closed during the event, pedestrianised Motcomb Street is the safest part with kids. 15 November 2023, 17:00-20:00. Drop in.

Switch on party at Mount Street Mayfair, W1. With a Nutcracker performance by Danceworks, carols, choirs, plus lots of freebies from the shops along the streets including hot chocolate, baubles, mince pies and mulled wine. 16 November 2023, 17:00-20:00. Drop in.

The Lord Mayor of London hosts the Christmas Lights switch-on at Leadenhall Market, EC3. With pyrotechnic firework fountains and carols by primary school children. 16 November 2023 at 17:15-18:00. Drop in.

Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman will press the switch on the Christmas lights at Angel Central, N1. Plus puppets, elves and live performances The Greatest Showman songs and Christmas classics. 17 November 2023, 16:00-18:30. Drop in. Part of a month of circus-themed free celebrations.

Meet Father Christmas and his reindeer at the Chelsea Christmas Lights Switch On. Plus performances, a Christmas market, fireworks, a light show and a dusting of fresh snow! 18 November 2023, 12:00-17:00. Drop in.

Light Up Orpington 2023 features live music and dance performances on two stages and a firework finale. Visit Santa in his sleigh inside The Walnuts and receive a gift (subject to availability, times tbc). Plus craft sessions and face painting. 19 November 2023, 14:00-19:00. Drop in.

See Batman and his iconic Batmobile at the Christmas light switch on in Ilford, with an appearance from Superman too! Meet Santa in his grotto, and see if he can make your dreams come true. Take part in a dancing machine challenge or test yourself on their assault courses. See the High Road transformed into a disco wonderland and enjoy an artificial snow experience. With paid food stalls, fairground rides and a ferris wheel. It culminates with two firework displays and a confetti cannon blast. 25 November 2023, 12:00-19:00. Drop in.

There’ll be music, merriment, festive lights and warming fare in the festive celebrations at Brent Cross Town, NW2. Their first Christmas tree will be unveiled illuminated with sparkling lights and oversized baubles. Plus uplifting carolling and performances from local school choirs. Roasted chestnuts, sweet festive treats and warming drinks available from Gussy’s. 29 November 2023, 16:00-18:30. Drop in.

There’s snow promised at the Christmas tree light switch on at St Helen’s Bishopsgate, as well as a festive choir and refreshments. 30 November 2023 from 17:00. Drop in.

Enjoy live music and dance performances, free face painting and craft activities, plus a visit from Santa in Winter festival in Woolwich. With Christmas markets and craft stalls, street food and drink traders, and the switching on of the Christmas tree lights. 2 December 2023, 12:00-18:00. Drop in.

Totem the Christmas gnome is giving out presents to lucky kids at Clapham Christmas Lights switch on. Join a choir procession along Clapham High Street, festive treats and a live Christmas Jazz band. The Christmas lights will be switched on by a special guest at the tree in Old Town at 18:15. 5 December 2023, 17:30-19:30. Drop in.


3. Check out London’s other winter lights and installations

Still on a light theme (because what else are we meant to do with these long, dark nights?), here’s more installations to head to, with or without kids, for nowt.

Credit: Mayfair London

IlluminoCity and Architects of Happiness bring you two feel good light sculptures to raise your spirits this winter. Walk into a feel-good immersive installation in The Happy House at Citypoint. And take a selfie with the social media-inspired installation #Beaming on Shoreditch High Street. 23 October 2023-1 January 2024. Drop in.

Step into an immersive winter wonderland and snap some seasonal selfies in Arctic Adventure at the FUJIFILM House of Photography. This year, the entire first floor of their flagship store will be transformed into an icy haven. Play with shadows, walk beneath their ‘aurora borealis’ and head inside the yeti’s den. 4 November 2023-25 February 2024. Drop in.

Winter Light illuminates the Southbank Centre with outdoor works created by ten contemporary artists. Personally, I don’t find they add up to a light trail, but it’s a nice excuse to visit the Southbank. This year’s highlight looks to be Marinella Senatore’s We Rise by Lifting Others, an uplifting large-scale light sculpture inspired by the southern Italian tradition of illuminated decorations. 13 November 2023-7 January 2024, 16:00-23:00. Drop in.

Here’s a Christmas tree you won’t forget in a hurry – a 20-foot-tall Michael Bublé-powered Christmas tree is heading to Kings Cross Station, for one day only. Step up to the mic, give the tree your best Bublé and watch it dance and dazzle with light – reflecting your pitch and effort. Plus receive free Asda Christmas goodies. 16 November 2023, 10:00-19:00. Drop in.

Whilst it’s not Christmas themed, Ever After Garden in Mayfair shouldn’t be missed – especially if you’re missing loved ones this year. Over 10,000 white roses light up Grovesnor Square in this touching illuminated remembrance garden to raise money for Royal Marsden. 16 November-19 December 2023. Drop in. You can dedicate a rose to remember someone sadly no longer with us from £10.

Sparkle in the Park, the Royal Borough of Greenwich’s annual festive light trail, is back for a fourth year this Christmas. Avery Hill Park will be transformed into an enchanted winter wonderland for Royal Greenwich residents to enjoy. With Christmas market, a fun fair and pop up performances from local school and community choirs. 30 November-3 December 2023, 16:30-21:00. Drop in.

Get lost in a light-based mural maze and art installation in The Luminaze at Wembley Park. With cutting-edge neon installations, a specially curated soundscape, and a 4 metre high hourglass which tells stories through animations and audio. Plus there’s free live music and choirs every weekend in December and warming tipples available. 2 December 2023-2 January 2024. Drop in.

A life-sized gingerbread house comes to Victoria Station. Enter a sweet festive world, take snaps and receive a free candy cane. 7-8 December 2023 08:00-19:00 and 9-10 December 2023, 10:00-18:00. Drop in.


4. Browse a Christmas market – big or small

Want to soak up some serious Christmas atmosphere? Entry to these Christmas markets is free – although what you spend when you’re there is another story! Don’t overlook London’s smaller, pop-up Christmas markets which are often less crowded, more community focused, feature artist-made products and host extra activities for kids.

Kingston Christmas Market

Set to the backdrop with some of London’s most iconic buildings and landmarks, Winter By The River takes place along the riverside from Tower Bridge to Hay’s Galleria. There’s market stalls with foods and gifts, choirs in Hay’s Galleria and two pop-up bars. 14 November 2023 to 1 January 2024. Drop in.

Want a European-style Christmas market in a traditional British setting? Then Kingston Christmas market is for you. Wander under twinkling fairy lights, enjoy mulled wine and choose food from across the globe (including continental bratwurst, of course!) There’s live music daily and more attractions, kids rides, stalls and seasonal decorations including a huge Christmas tree and lights in the adjacent pedestrianised high street shopping area. 16 November-31 December 2023. Drop in.

Further along the Thames you’ll find Winter Market on the Southbank. With twinkling lights and traditional alpine-style chalets, indulgent festive foods on offer including gourmet cheese toasties, toasted marshmallows and dutch pancakes plus mulled wine, hot toddy or chocolate. 3 November-26 December 2023, 11:00-22:00 (Sunday-Thursday), 11:00-23:00 (Friday-Saturday). Drop in.

The buzzing Leicester Square Christmas market offers seasonal treats, food, drinks and gifts with Christmas Lights in Leicester Square, St Martin’s Lane and Piccadilly bringing a festive sparkle to the skies. 8 November 2023-January 2024. It’s better than the nearby Trafalgar Square Christmas market – I found it gaudy rather than magical, and the prices were eye-watering, even for a Christmas market.


Now I’ve shared the best of London’s big Christmas markets, here’s my selection of smaller ones, all with extra activities for kids:

Have Yourself a local, little Twickmas at the Cabbage Patch boasts 30 gift stalls, Santa’s (recycled!) grotto, two entertainment stages, Kidz Interactive activities and a Christmas food court featuring local restaurants. more. 25-26 November 2023, 10:00-18:00.

Gather together for free face painting, live music, a snow princess and more at Purley Christmas market, CR8. 25 November 2023, 12:00-16:00. Drop in.

Join Bow Arts at Pumphouse Square, E16 for a dazzling Royal Albert Wharf Winter Market, featuring workshops from local artists, brilliant performances from the Ice Man, and a makers market. Make greeting cards and patterned papers with marbling, or decorations from recycled felt or throwaway household products in free artist-led workshops. 1 December 2023, 17:00-21:00. Drop in.

Expect live music, craft corner for children and adults, and tasty treats at Camley Street Festive market. It’s a one-off ethical and sustainable traders festive market at Camley Street Natural Park. 2 December 2023, 10:00-16:00. Drop in.

The Mexican Christmas Market returns to Coal Drops Yard with family activities including piñatas, Mariachi El Mexicano & Mestizo Mexican Folklore Dancers, La Guerrera Music and Children’s Loteria. Plus artisanal Mexican clothing, accessories, ornaments and craftworks from independent artists and designers. 2-3 December 2023. Drop in. Check listing for timings.

Featuring over 20 talented local artist and maker stalls, Bow Road Winter Market at Bow Arts Courtyard also has a free, drop-in festive art workshop for local families and children. There’s mulled wine, mince pies, and hot chocolate on sale from Nunnery Café too. 10 December 2023, 11:00-16:00. Drop in.

The Story Garden, N1 is open for cosy festive activities. Their Winter Market features handmade crafts and presents from their youth programmes, marshmallows for roasting over an open fire and hot chocolate to keep you toasty. 12 December 2023, 16:00-19:00. Drop in.


5. Visit Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park – for free

With over 200 rides, an expansive Christmas market, ice skating, circus shows and more, there are plenty of ways to part with your cash at Winter Wonderland. But if you really want to see London’s largest tribute to Christmas fun for nothing, entry is free during off-peak times. Once inside you can spend as long as you like there.

Don’t forget you can visit Santa’s grotto for free – head to my Meet Father Christmas section for more info. Note the last day is usually packed with extra family-friendly activities too.

Winter Wonderland runs 17 November-1 January 2023. Entry is free during the following off peak times: 20-23 & 27-30 November, 4-7 December 2023 & 1 January 2024 at 10:00-12:00 and 12:00-14:00 entry times. Otherwise it costs £5 or £7.50 per person. Book. Go quickly, off peak time slots are already selling out.

6. Go ice skating (or roller skating) for free

Ice Skating at Wimbledon Quarter

Head on down to Wimbledon Quarter (formerly Centre Court Shopping Centre) for free ice skating to celebrate their Grand Opening! The 1,500 sq ft real-ice rink has a retractable roof for weather-proof skating. There’s also Christmas crafts, gingerbread decorating and face painting, ice skating performances, live music and special guests, with the official ribbon cutting ceremony at 14:25. 18 November 2023, 11:00-17:00. First come first served basis, with a limited capacity. Please be prepared to queue.

And if you prefer wheels to blades, Croydon Roller returns to Centrale & Whitgift – and this year the pop-up roller rink is even bigger! 1-24 December 2023, 12:00-17:00 Mondays to Saturdays, 12:00-16:00 Sundays. Sessions start on the hour, and last an hour. Arrive 10 minutes before your session start time. Book.
The organisers write: Walk in spaces are available on every session, we advise you arrive at least 10 minutes before the session is due to start to give the best chance of getting onto your preferred session.


7. Try a festive family day or other fun events

Get into the Christmas spirit with one of these special family events.

Illuminate East: Christmas arriving at Westfield Stratford City!
Credit: Westfield

There’s Holly Jolly Brunswick events at the Brunswick Centre. Entertainers include festive stilt walkers, a roller-skating Christmas fairy and an elf magician. Meet Cinderella and Prince Charming, as well as Elsa and Anna from Frozen. Kids can have their cheeks dusted in snowflakes by the Ice Queen glitter artist. Santa will also be popping along with his cheeky elves to pose for selfies. 16 November & 7 December 2023, 16:00-19:00. Drop in. On 16 November, there’s a live performance by Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalists Chickenshed. Plus there’s magical snow experiences happening daily at the centre from 16 November 2023.

Celebrate the arrival of Christmas with Illuminate East at Westfield Stratford City, E20. Write a letter to Santa, decorate a delicious Christmas Tree cookie, make your own lantern and hear stories about the Northern Lights. With live performances from the Nutcracker Brass Band, Go Gospel, LED Drummers and much more. Visit the live ice sculpture and keep your eyes peeled for acrobatic elves, ice jugglers, ballerinas and Bjorn the polar bear. 18 November 2023, 11:00-19:00. Drop in.

Head to Glow in the Angel at Islington Green and Camden Passage, N1 for music, entertainment, giveaways and more. Try puppet-making with Little Angel Theatre, illustrate your own decorations with the Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration, colour Christmas tree angels, and decorate gingerbread people. Pick up a free advent calendar illustrated with the Angel’s most well known landmarks, send postcards of good will and sample Italian hot chocolate and panettone. 18 November 2023, 12:00-17:00. Drop in.

The Christmas Book Festival at Waterstones Finchley Road O2 Centre welcomes bestselling children’s author Kieran Larwood, M. G. Leonard and illustrator Jamie Littler. 19 November 2023, 11:00-16:00. Drop in.

Create a giant decorative ice crystal to take home and hang on your Christmas tree at Queen’s House ice rink festive fun day, SE10. There’s a live choir performance featuring classic carols and you may even bump into some festive characters throughout the day… 25 November 2023, 11:00-16:45. Tickets allocated on arrival. Ice skating paid, book ahead.

There’s plenty of festive treats at the Winter Party at the Gate! at Museum of the Order of St John, EC2. Try printmaking with artist Anna Alcock and enjoy family crafts and a special band performance. Explore the historic interiors of the Gate decorated for Christmas and get up close to treasures from the collections. 25 November 2023, 14:00-16:30. Drop in.

Be filled with the spirit of the season in Wimbledon Winterfest in their new home at Queens Road. Enjoy ice sculpting workshops, ice graffiti wall, community performances, fireworks and a new laser light show. Father Christmas will make an appearance throughout the day. Plus paid vintage children’s rides, ice skating, and hot food and drinks. 26 November 2023, 12:00-18:00. Drop in.

There’s fun for all ages at the Winter Festival at Poplar Union, E14. Take a treasure trail to a festive tea party (under 5s), create your own adventure with art, drama and storytelling (5+), or learn to juggle like a pro (10+). All ages can learn simple yoga poses, enjoy a sound bath, join in with a cockney singalong, make fabric gift wrappings or collage Christmas cards. 2 December 2023, 11:30-21:00. Book. Walk ins accepted subject to availability.

Boogie in a two hundred year old warehouse at Museum of London Docklands Snowy silent disco. Bust a move to cracking Christmas tunes or frosty favourites at a family-friendly silent disco. The perfect party for when the weather outside is frightful! 2 December 2023, at 13:10, 13:45, 14:20, 14:55 and 15:30. Tickets allocated on arrival.

Learn how to create your very own interactive video dance game inspired by holiday music in Christmas video game dance party at V&A Museum, SW7. Using a simple visual programming tool, effortlessly drag and drop coding blocks to choose your characters and dance moves. After creating your dance sequence, step onto interactive dance mats to test your dance game in real-time fun! 2-3 December 2023, 10:30-16:30. Drop in, ages 5+.

Aldgate in Winter is a jam-packed evening of music, dance, light, and celebration. Make your very own paper lantern and carry it on the parade led by Drum Works. Join in with Bollywood dance workshops and sing along to classic belters. Plus prize bingo, community feast and more. 8 December 2023, 12:00-20:00. Drop in.

Get creative in Time Travel Club: Festive Fun Day at the National Archives, TW9. Take on the Ministry of Time Travel’s challenge and see how time agents decorate for Christmas. Make origami decorations with artist Toshiko Kurata and decorate chocolate delights with My Chocolate. Be transformed into a reindeer, elf or holly princess by resident face painter Arty-Cat Faces. With Christmas carols from the Blue School choir. 9 December 2023, 11:00-16:00. Drop in/book.

Do you know how a festive football match temporarily stopped fighting on the Western front? Or why Christmas handkerchiefs were dropped on UN forces during the Korean War? Learn this and more in the Marching Orders: Chaotic Christmas family tour at National Army Museum. 12-15 December 2023, starting at 11:00, 12:00, 14:00 and 15:00, lasting 30 minutes. First come, first served. Ages 5+


8. Watch (or join in with) free Christmas carols and performances

London Bridge carols and lantern parade

Be wowed with Little Angel Theatre’s puppet performers in Yuletide fun at Islington Square, N1. Plus winter-inspired street food and drink immersed in the rousing tones of live gospel choir, The Spiritual. November 17 2023 from 17:00. Drop in.

Get into the spirit with Christmas Carols at Marble Hill House, TW1 with music and mulled wine. 2 December 2023, 11:00. Drop in.

Big family carols at St Mary’s Church, N1 tell the Christmas story as well as singing some best-loved carols. Come dressed as a character from the Nativity story, or in a festive jumper. With refreshments after the service. 3 December 2023, 11:00-12:15. Drop in.

Step aside the Magi – London has three wise camels! St Etheldreda’s Church Fulham, SW6 welcomes three real, actual camels as you sing carols. With mulled wine and mince pies. 3 December 2023 at 16:00 Book.

Get ready to sing your heart out with Christmas Carols at Kingswood Arts, SE21. With live music, sing along carols, mulled wine and mince pies, and a mini-Christmas market. 6, 13 & 20 December 2023, 18:00-20:00. Book.

Hear children sing favourite carols then follow a lantern parade along the Thames in London Bridge Christmas Lantern Parade, SE1. 7 December 2023, 16:00-17:00, starting in Potter Fields Park, then walking through Hay’s Galleria to London Bridge Station. Drop in.

Sing carols with Westminster Abbey‘s world famous choir at Family Day: Christmas at the Abbey, SW1. Create a Christmas wreath to decorate a special door in your home, and listen to warming winter tales from London’s favourite storyteller, Olivia Armstrong. 9 December 2023, 10:00-13:00. Drop in.

Head to Southbank Centre for a festive weekend filled with music and song! On 9 December 2023, their Youth Voices choir presents a selection of festive and joyous songs, followed by Fab-YULE-ous Voices, an annual showcase of brilliant amateur choirs. Then on 10 December, Tomorrow’s Warriors’ Extraordinary Winter Showcase features some of the finest young jazz musicians in London’s bubbling scene. Finish the day with Bollyqueer, an empowering dance class with a queer dose of Bollywood entertainment. Drop in.

Listen to the Chelsea Pensioner Singers performing Christmas carols and classic live at the National Army Museum. 10 December 2023, 11:00. Drop in.

Experience the Swedish festive tradition of Santa Lucia with a traditional choir parade, and some tasty Swedish treats at Livat Hammersmith. 13 December 2023, 10:30-16:00. Drop in.

Join in with well-known carols in the iconic St Paul’s Cathedral in their Family Carols service. 16 December 2023, 11:00-12:00. Unticketed.

What’s Christmas without a New Year? Start your family’s 2024 celebrations early at Kids Countdown with Len Blanco at Southbank Centre. All ages can party hard, countdown to midday, and still be in bed nice and early. 31 December 2023, 10:30-12:00. Drop in.


9. Meet Father Christmas and friends

With Christmas Grottos costing up to £250 in London (I’m looking at you Hamleys and the Ritz), you’d be forgiven for thinking you need a small mortgage to see Father Christmas. But whilst most Santa meet and greets come at a cost, here’s a selection of places you can see the man in red – for free!

Wish Upon A Star - Santa Experience

All kids get a small gift in the free grotto at Santaland in Winter Wonderland. 17 November 2023-1 January 2024, 10:00-18:00. Free with entry to Winter Wonderland, see above for free entry times. Drop in; expect extremely long queues at busy times.

Father Christmas will be appearing at Angel Central at intervals between 12:00 and 14:00. You can also meet amazing puppets from Little Angel Theatre, marvel at stilt-walking elves and enjoy free candy floss. 19 November 2023. Drop in.

Meet Santa and friends as they make their annual appearance at Selfridges, W1. Catch them as they roam around the store, spreading Christmas cheer. 24 November-24 December 2023, check website for exact Santa and character timings. Drop in.

Grab a Selfie with Santa at IKEA Croydon, CR0. He’ll be located in the self-serve department, in front of the checkouts. 2-3 & 9-10 December 2023. Times between 11:30-14:30, check page for exact times. Drop in. Queues expected.

Bring the children along to meet Santa with his cheeky elf in his Grotta at Livat Hammersmith. Plus, every child will get a ‘colourful’ gift from Santa to take home. 2-3, 9-10 & 16-17 December 2023, 10:30-13:00 & 13:30-16:30; and 18-20 December 2023, 12:00-14:00 and 14:15-16:00. Note each child gets 5 minutes with Santa, and they can’t guarantee every child will be able to visit Santa.

Santa returns to Battersea Power Station with his little helper. Meet them in Santa’s Cabin and take your own photos on Upper Ground Floor, Turbine Hall B. 2-3, 9-10 and 16-24 December 2023, 11:00-17:00. Santa’s hours will be shorter on Sunday 24th December.

As well as a Santa’s grotto at Winter Festival in St John’s Church, E15, there’s free hot chocolate, live performances, an appearance from the mischievous Grinch, festive funnels and a winter wonderland snow globe to immerse yourself in. 5 December 2023, 16:00-19:00. Drop in.

Father Christmas plans to fly in for a visit to Victoria Station’s life-sized gingerbread house. Meet the man himself and share your Christmas list. 7 & 10 December 2023, 12:00-16:00. Free, donations for St Vincent’s Family Project welcome. Drop in.

In partnership with Disney’s Wish, Westfield’s Wish Upon A Star Santa experience gives your child the chance to make a wish and send it on a star to Santa before meeting the man himself in his sleigh. All children will receive a gift from Santa, and you can also take your own photos. Choose from Westfield, W12 and Westfield Stratford City, E20. 8-24 December 2023, 10:00-19:00. Book.
Westfield says: Tickets are currently sold out, however slots may become available. Please keep checking for any cancellations. There may also be walk up slots available on a first come first serve basis, however this is not guaranteed. Ticket holders have priority. 

Meet Santa and his elves, and join one of his special workshops at Stratford Centre. Go to elf school and test toys (9 December 2023), decorate cookies with singing elves (16 December 2023), or make a Christmas Eve plate (23 December 2023). Guess the number of cracker for a chance to win Christmas vouchers, and post your Christmas letter to Santa. With appearances from Makenna de Monkey! All activities run 10:00-16:00. Drop in.

Head to The Broadwalk, Edgware for a trip to Santa’s Winter Wonderland. With giant penguins, ice fishing and a visit with ‘Mr Christmas’ himself… 20-23 December 2023, 11:00-16:00. Booking recommended, walk-ups taken when no shows.

Don’t forget to check your local library’s website – for example, you can Meet Father Christmas at Higham Hill Library on 6 December 2023, 11:15-12:15. Book.

And Santa is quite busy – so dash(e)r over to Hamleys Regent Street to meet The Elves and grab an Elfie-Selfie. Play Elf or No Elf to win sweet prizes (from 18 November 2023, 11:30, 15:00 & 16:30). Write letters to Santa (10:00-18:00) and hug and high-five Santa Bear (13:00 and 14:30). Watch the cheeky elves light up the Christmas tree and take a holly jolly jaunt through the store (16:00) and join in with a dance medley (17:30). 11 November-24 December 2023. Drop in.


10. See Santa Claws – the dinosaur version

A T-Rex wearing a red Christmas jumper and Santa hat at the Natural History Museum

It’s the festive cheer we never knew we needed – for the third year running, the animatronic Tyrannosaurus Rex is wearing a giant Christmas jumper at the Natural History Museum, SW7. It’s donning a fetching Santa hat and rampaging through a snowy London. Free, book museum entry.
And if you fancy your natural history more <ahem> scientific, they’re also running Women in Science Tour: Winter Wonders. Discover the fascinating work of female scientists past and present, with a festive twist. 12, 19, 30 & 31 December 2023. Book. Best ages 12+.


11. Meet and greet with real reindeer

Credit: Merchant Square

Reindeer, Santa’s sleigh and carol singers await at Merchant Square! Meet two very special reindeer, and learn about the origins of these majestic creatures. Climb aboard the sleigh, imagine Santa’s journey, and snap a photo. With carol singing, warm hot chocolate and freshly baked treats. 13 and 14 December 2023. Times unclear, I think it’s 16:00-18:00 but check with venue.


12. Ride a horse and carriage through festive Chelsea – for free

Chelsea at Christmas

Santa might not bring you a pony but you can enjoy a wonderful 20 minute horse and carriage ride through Chelsea to discover some of the area’s festive delights. There’s two coaches – one running from 12-3pm and another from 1-4pm. Each can seat up to six people so it’s perfect for the whole family. Ask the elf outside Kate Spade on the corner of Pavilion Road how to catch a ride. 25 November and 2, 9 & 16 December 2023, 12:00-16:00. First come first served. No booking.


13. Go Walking with The Snowman in Fleet Street Quarter

Snowman

Here’s a great excuse to wrap up and go for a wintery walk. Find decorated recreations of the much loved The Snowman in Fleet Street Quarter in Walking with The Snowman. They’re inspired by The Twelve Days of Christmas and designed by various artists. For an extra challenge, try not to warble or hum ‘We’re walking in the air’ whilst on the trail. 20 November 2023-early January 2024. Drop in.


14. Visit homes of Christmas past at Museum of the Home

Christmas Past
Credit: Museum of the Home

I’ll admit it – this is more for me than the kids. For Christmas, the Museum of the Home usually decorates its very popular Rooms Through Time exhibit. Have a wander through room sets that show you how winter has changed London homes through the last 400 years. Last year included new sounds, smells, sights, and stories and a new Winter Family Trail. I’ll update you when I hear more on 2023’s plans. Drop in.


15. Make Christmas Crafts for nothing

Print homemade Christmas wrapping paper, make tree decorations and decorate gingerbread in these free family workshops.

(C) Garden Museum

There’s two seasonal Sunday sessions at Garden Museum, SE1. Using botanicals and evergreens as inspiration, make Christmas tree decorations and decorate with slips and ribbon in Clay Christmas decoration making (26 November 2023). And design and print festive paper in Christmas Craft Paper Printing (10 December 2023). Both run 11:00-12:30. Drop in. Ages 3-10.

Create your own Victorian Yuletide pomander (ages 5+) at Winter Late at William Morris Gallery, E17. Plus curator tours of Radical Landscapes exhibition, music by the Rose and Crown Singers, late night shopping, and mulled wine and seasonal treats from Deeneys cafe. 30 November 2023, 17:00-20:00. Drop in.

Head to IKEA Hammersmith to make your own Christmas tree decoration in Tree-rific Decorations (2-3 & 16-17 December 2023, 12:00-16:30). And decorate your own festive biscuits in Jolly Gingerbread (9-10 & 22-23 December 2023, 12:00-16:30). Drop in.

Craft your own Christmas tree decoration in Christmas Crafting with Mel Taylor-Bessent at Waterstones Staines, TW18. Afterwards, Mel will be signing copies of all her books. 9 December 2023, 10:00-12:00. Book.

Make a cracker or even a shiny cornucopia in Family Sundays: Celebration Decorations at Old Royal Naval College, SE10. 10 December 2023, 11:00-16:00. Drop in. Best ages 5+.

Earn a free candy cane for joining in with Festive Colour by numbers at Charing Cross Station, WC1. Over four days, the artwork will come to life to produce a stunning community collaboration. 13-15 December 2023, 08:00-21:00 and 16 December 2023, 10:00-18:00. Drop in.

Take part in Christmas Crafts at Marble Hill House, TW1. 16 December 2023, 11:00. Drop in.


16. Send Poké Post from a Pokémon pop up

Pop up post office

Know someone who’d love a Pokémon surprise through the door? Visit this free, festive pop-up at Queen’s Walk, Southbank to receive a Pokémon Trading Card Game and Pokémon Together promo card for you, and one to post on-site to a friend. Once in queue, you will have the choice of either a Pikachu or Eevee themed envelope containing a corresponding Pokémon Together promo card inside, together with a Pokémon Scarlet & Violet fun pack. Plus meet Pikachu or Eevee (12:00, 13:00, 14:00, 15:00, 16:00 and 17:00). 19 December 2023, 10:00-19:30. Drop in. Arrive early to avoid disappointment.


17. Take your under 5s to one of these free festive activities

A family exploring the sights and sounds at the museum.
(C) Museum of London

Make cardboard templates and repeat print onto craft paper to take home in Tuesday Tots: Christmas craft paper printing at the Garden Museum, SE1. 5 December 2023, 10:30-11:30. Drop in. Under 5s. There’s also Winter trees storytelling (21 November 2023) and Snow song storytelling (28 November 2023).

Delight in December at Little Feet at the British Museum. Make a craft piece to reflect the light or an art masterpiece to add some warmth to your house and discover wintery museum objects. 7 December 2023, 10:30-12:00. Drop in. Under 5s.

Discover what it takes to nurse a star back to health and create your own sparkling star decoration to take home in My Pet Star at Museum of the Order of St John, EC1. 13 December at 10:00-10:45 (Under 3s) and 11:15-12:00 (Under 5s). Book.

Recreate the magic of London’s famous winter festivals in an immersive play area at Fun at the frost fair in Museum of London Docklands, E14. Whip up a gingerbread treat, put on a puppet performance, and try your luck at different games as we explore these special parties on the ice. 16-20 December 2023, 11:00-15:30. Drop in. No age limit specified.

Sing and clap along in Festive family gospel by Baby Gospel at Museum of London Docklands, E14. With festive songs, soul and Motown hits, Christmas carols and nursery rhymes from London’s CK Gospel Choir. 20 December 2023, 11:00-11:45 and 14:00-14:45. Drop in. Baby friendly, open to all ages.

Deck the Halls! with Creative Kids at William Morris Gallery, E17. Make seasonal decorations to spread cheer and good will, with a tour of the Gallery, the craft activity, singing and snack time. 21 December 2023, 10:00-11:30 and 13:00-14:30. Book. Bookings open 7 December 2023. Ages 2-5.


18. Find free SEND-friendly Christmas events

Sparkle in the Park is back for a third year this Christmas
Sparkle in the Park

Christmas and the festive season can be overwhelming and stressful for those with autism, sensory sensitivities or other disabilities. Here’s some free special events, specially adapted to better suit their needs.

Croydon Roller at Centrale & Whitgift has SEN sessions every weekday at 12:00. 1-24 December 2023. Book.
The organisers write: Walk in spaces are available on every session, we advise you arrive at least 10 minutes before the session is due to start to give the best chance of getting onto your preferred session.

Sparkle in the Park quiet hour, for children and adults with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and sensory sensitivities. During the quiet hour, there will be reduced noise, no flashing lights, a reduced capacity on site and sensory appropriate entertainment. 3 December 2023.

Morning explorers festive edition at the Museum of London Docklands, E14. Explore the museum in a relaxed environment, sensitive to the needs of children with an autism spectrum condition. With winter-themed sensory space and object handling, full programme available to ticket holders a week before the event. 7 December 2023, 9:00-10:00 galleries, 10:10-10:40 Mudlarks. Book.

London Transport Museum opens outside regular hours in its Christmas Early Explorer Morning for visitors with Special Educational Needs (SEN), including Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). With many gallery sounds off, fewer visitors, and sensory bags. Plus step into their twinkling winter wonderland and meet Santa! 9 December 2023, 08:30-10:00. Book.

CPotential’s first Creative Club for children with movement disorders is Festive Lantern Making with Scribble and Smudge, in N10. Children and families will be able to explore and play with light and shadows and make their own lanterns to take home. In partnership with Groundswell Arts. 16 December 2023. Book. Ages 4+ with movement disorders, siblings and parents/carer welcome.

Additional Needs Sessions at Santa’s Wonderland take place when the Broadwalk is a little quieter, and children can be allowed more time to complete the activity. 20-21 December 2023, 11:00-12:00.


19. Spread some free festive cheer

And lastly, here’s a way you can spread festive cheer – let others know about this post and how they can have a low-cost Christmas too. Here’s some ideas of how to share the post:

  • Email a link to your school to add to their newsletter;
  • Drop a link in your parenting WhatsApp groups;
  • Post in your local Facebook group;
  • Screenshot and share with a link in your Instagram stories;
  • Tell a friend or fellow parent about it in the playground!

And if this guide has been useful, why not buy me a minced pie to say thanks?


I hope you have a fantastic Christmas, whatever you get up to. Let me know about your festive adventures – tag me @museummum on Instagram. If your account is private, you can DM me instead. Happy holidays!

Disclosure: Just like a journalist, I have been gifted free entry to many of these museums for review purposes. I work at the Museum of London, although I can’t take any credit for their festive activities, and this blog is not associated with them.

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Written by Vyki Sparkes AKA Museum Mum. Award-winning culture blogger, content creator, museum curator, podcaster, and mum to three. I’ve worked in museums for 18+ years, have a masters in museum studies, but more importantly, have been letting my kids loose in museums for decades. This blog shares all my hard-earned knowledge and experience.

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